Exam Pressures, Suicide, and Depression

Worth Living Ambassador Linda Dias Menezes

I would like to start by introducing myself:

My name is Linda Dias Menezes and I have epilepsy, I have a loving supportive husband and a little boy who is three years old.

I am also a mentor, an ambassador, a support group facilitator, a Psychology Honours Student at the University of South Africa and an advocate for mental health and epilepsy. I have my own NPO aimed and spreading epilepsy awareness in South Africa and plan to open a second NPO with fellow psychology students called Mental Health Profession Advocates for Change.

Here in sunny South Africa the mental health care is all but sunny. Mental health and the stigma attached to mental health are not seen for what they are. Instead, some communities have a belief that if you have epilepsy or a mental health problem you are possessed or deranged.

I educate my audience in every presentation I host about what epilepsy is. People in general are not educated on the myths and stigmas related to mental health as soon as they hear the word mental they think of THE “Arkham Asylum”. I discuss the mental health issues that go along with Epilepsy.

Caution: Linda discusses suicides

Exam Pressures, Suicide, and Depression

On Saturday the 18th of October, a 19 year old student jumped off a six storey building and committed suicide. The whole nation is still in shock. A beautiful young woman with such potential at The University of the Witwatesrand (WITS),one of the best Universities’ in South Africa, commits suicide.

This brought to light once again what this time of the year means for students. I would like to share this very personal story with you.Just in my circle of fellow students at the University of South Africa, I share social networks and study groups online. In our circle, there were two of my fellow students who had messaged me to say they were thinking or had attempted to commit suicide. One of the ladies went through with her suicide attempt and spent two weeks in hospital for observation; while the other lady reached out to me before going through with the attempt and thanked me for listening and I referred her to professionals who specialize in this field. It is difficult to make that decision to reach out when you have you will never regret it and will be surprised to see how many people are willing to help and show you just how important you are to them.

We students have support groups for Hons students, in South Africa where they can just unload their anxieties about the upcoming exams and how they are coping. Many of the students I interact with are balancing full time jobs, running a household, and studying part-time.

The main topics that came up while discussing exam anxieties are the amount of pressure placed on them by either, family, friends, relationships, pressure getting into masters or selection programmes, student grant or funding that they will have to pay back if they fail, and financial pressure that comes with being a student.

How to recognise depression:

The common feature is the presence of a sad, empty, or irritable mood, for more than two weeks and changes that significantly affect the capacity to function. Major depressive disorders are characterized by discrete episodes of at least 2 weeks’ duration, although most episodes could last considerably longer. A more chronic form of depression, persistent depressive disorder, can be diagnosed when the mood disturbance continues for at least 2 years in adults or 1 year in children. It is important to note a large number of substance abuse, some prescribed medications, and several medical conditions can be associated with depression. Having a depressed mood with feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopeless for most of the day, and nearly every day. Lack of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day. Lack of sleep or too much sleep nearly every day. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt. Diminished ability to concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day. This one is the most important! Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), recurrent suicidal thoughts or a suicide attempt. If you are feeling suicidal please reach out to professionals, family and or friends. The symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social activities, the workplace and other important aspects of day to day functioning. The episode is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or to another medical condition.

Periods of sadness are normal aspects of the human experience and reactions to certain circumstances; i.e. the loss of a loved one. Major depressive episode criteria are met for five out of nine symptoms and duration most of the day, nearly every day for at least 2 weeks, with significant distress or impairment.

You are not alone, depression can affect anyone at any time. Your life is worth living!

Who to contact:

 Students Reps
 School / University Counsellors
 A close family member or friend
 NGO’s specializing in Depression and Anxiety in your area
 Find local support groups in your area
 Clinical psychologists
 General practitioners
 Your family doctor

Exam tips:

 Make a schedule and organize your study space. It helps when the area you are studying is free from distractions i.e. TV, cell phones and or other distractions. Make sure you let your family and housemates know you are studying so they don’t interrupt.

 Make sure that you know when the exam dates and times are. Write them in your diary and save them on your phone.

 Ask your lecturer, teacher, or consult your tutorial papers for the content of the exam and what to study.

 Past exam papers help, if you are able to go through past exam papers, do so. This way you know what kind of questions are asked and      what the layout of the paper will be with no drastic surprises.

 Give yourself enough time to study after you have taken note of the times and dates, check how much time/days you have between exams, and how much time you have from today until the exam. Plan accordingly.

 Using summaries, mind maps, flow charts and or other visual aids help remembering the content of the study material.

Start a study group with fellow students

 Stay hydrated drink lots of water, this is when your brain works best.

 Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential for memory retention and learning. At least six hours of sleep are needed to effectively study and remember what you have studied.

 Recalling what you have learnt, after studying when you are driving, washing dishes, doing general chores, or in the bath or shower. Try and recall the content you have gone through during the day and what you have studied.

Good luck with your exams, you got this!

Twitter: @diaslr
Instagram: epilepsyawarenesssa
Facebook: EpilepsyAwarenessSA
Email: epilepsyawarenesssa@gmail.com
Website: www.easa.org.za

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